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How commuting affects subjective wellbeing

Clark, Ben; Chatterjee, Kiron; Martin, Adam; Davis, Adrian


Ben Clark

Kiron Chatterjee

Adam Martin


Commuting between home and work is routinely performed by workers and any wellbeing impacts of commuting will consequently affect a large proportion of the population. This paper presents findings from analyses of the impact of commuting (time and mode) on multiple aspects of Subjective Well-Being (SWB), including: satisfaction with life overall and the SWB sub-domains of job satisfaction, satisfaction with leisure time availability and self-reported health. Measures of strain and mental health (GHQ-12) are also examined. Six waves of individual-level panel data from Understanding Society (2009/10 to 2014/15) are analysed, providing a sample of over 26,000 workers living in England. Associations between commuting and SWB are identified, paying particular attention to those arising from individual changes in commuting circumstances over the six waves. It is found that longer commute times are associated with lower job and leisure time satisfaction, increased strain and poorer mental health. The strongest association is found for leisure time satisfaction. Despite these negative associations with the SWB sub-domains, longer commute times were not associated with lower overall life satisfaction (except where individuals persisted with them over all six waves). Workers in England appear to be successful in balancing the negative aspects of commuting against the wider benefits, e.g. access to employment, earnings and housing. Differences amongst selected population sub-groups are also examined. The job satisfaction of younger adults and lower income groups are not found to be negatively associated with longer commute times; longer commute times are more strongly negatively associated with the job satisfaction of women compared to men. With respect to mode of transport, walking to work is associated with increased leisure time satisfaction and reduced strain. The absence of the commute, via working from home, is associated with increased job satisfaction and leisure time satisfaction. Overall, the study indicates that shorter commute times and walkable commutes can contribute to improved SWB—particularly through the release of leisure time. But life satisfaction overall will only be maintained if the benefits of undertaking the commute (earnings and satisfactory housing/employment) are not compromised.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 24, 2018
Online Publication Date Mar 11, 2019
Publication Date 2020-12
Deposit Date Mar 18, 2019
Publicly Available Date Mar 18, 2019
Journal Transportation
Print ISSN 0049-4488
Electronic ISSN 1572-9435
Publisher BMC
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 47
Pages 2777–2805
Keywords Commuting, subjective wellbeing, mental health, panel data,
Public URL
Contract Date Mar 18, 2019


How commuting affects subjective wellbeing (709 Kb)

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© The Author(s) 2019

Open Access
This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made

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